Canada is in a state of turmoil amid the Freedom Convoy and protests against government vaccine restrictions and mandates.

Justin Tudeau’s government has granted itself powers designed for a national crisis, allowing it to deploy the military, prohibit gatherings, suspend insurance, seize funds, and even direct labor. The powers invoked under the Emergencies Act have extremely serious implications — effectively treating protesters as domestic terrorists.

This crisis has changed from a minor dispute on the legitimacy of vaccine policy to an existential question on the legitimacy of Trudeau’s administration; we are now looking at a government that thinks it’s appropriate to strip citizens of their rights for going against the state’s agenda.

How a truckers’ protest became a movement against COVID restrictions

Prior to the protests, cross-border truck drivers were exempt from vaccine requirements for traveling between Canada and the United States.

However, in January 2022, exemptions for truckers expired on both sides of the border. While about 90 percent of Canadian truckers are vaccinated, government policies still prohibit a significant number of truckers from working unless they consent to a medical decision that they would not otherwise choose for themselves.

This seems bizarre, given that trucking isn’t exactly a profession that involves significant interaction with others. As such, the policy appears to be something of an administrative oversight.

“Freedom Convoys” then formed across Canada, blocking streets and honking their horns. This movement grew and grew, and gradually became a protest against the federal government’s covid-19 restrictions in general.

The primary justification from the government for maintaining restrictions is a fear that Canada’s healthcare system could be overrun. Canada, and Ontario in particular, suffers from notoriously poor healthcare capacity

Yet capacity doesn’t look to be reached any time soon. With a high vaccination rate of over 80 percent, many Canadians believe they have done their part and it is now time to move on.

It is disingenuous to pretend that the protesters are “domestic terrorists”

In late January, polls suggested that a slim majority of Canadians, 54 percent, favor repealing COVID-19 restrictions.

The main rationale the Canadian government is using to justify its heavy-handed tactics is the fact that some truckers have blocked border crossings, which see $1.7 billion of goods and services travel between Canada and the United states.  It is estimated that the blockades have resulted in daily losses of $1 billion.

But a rationale is neither here nor there; every authoritarian government has one.

Regardless of the issues surrounding some of the Freedom Convoy’s tactics, the nature of the Trudeau government’s response is deeply troubling to anyone who values liberty and due process.

When people are pushed around by government restrictions for almost two years, widespread frustration is to be expected. Yet the response to the Freedom Convoy has exposed the political establishment’s double standards that have been the catalyst for many modern political movements.

For instance, when protesting the construction of new pipelines, or in the case of the Occupy movement, many on the left have endorsed disruptive tactics as legitimate. The same applies to the right; look at how law and order conservatives view leftist agitation. 

Can we really imagine Trudeau responding in a similar manner to a domestic left-wing economic blockade, given his public sympathies?

No, this is less about the actions of specific truckers, and more about a government acting out of line because protesters are on the wrong side of their agenda.

The Canadian government’s response to the protests is unacceptable

The implication that protesters involved in the Freedom Convoy are domestic terrorists would be comical if it were not serious. While some bad actors have no doubt tagged along, the vast majority of those present are people with legitimate reasons to be frustrated. 

Canada’s authoritarian crackdown on protests is not something that should ever be seen in a free society. Loathe to repeal the mandates, which are absurd and authoritarian by any count, Trudeau has instead opted for a police state. This is as striking an example as any of the dangers posed by governments holding emergency powers.

Trudeau’s administration is currently freezing the bank accounts of those associated with the protests, without oversight or due process. This represents a truly shocking development that is without precedent in Canadian history. Furthermore, the fact that this action is being taken in response to a cause the Prime Minister so thoroughly opposes only highlights the inconsistency.

Fundamentally, governments do not own their country, the people do, and they are entitled to protest government decisions, regardless of their politics or cause.

For more content related to the COVID-19 pandemic, be sure to check out our video series on COVID disruption by clicking on the button below.

This piece solely expresses the opinion of the author and not necessarily the organization as a whole. Students For Liberty is committed to facilitating a broad dialogue for liberty, representing a variety of opinions.

This piece was first published on the Students For Liberty website.